SF weighs interim use of Tenderloin parking lot to address ‘crying need’ for housing, services

Former mayoral candidate pitches combined dog park and ‘stewardship village’ for homeless

About six months after first dreaming up an idea to transform a Tenderloin parking lot into a “stewardship village” with temporary homeless housing, Amy Farah Weiss has submitted her official proposal to The City — and now she waits for an answer.

Ordinarily, proposals are dropped off at City Hall in business-like fashion. But Weiss, who has long challenged The City to do things differently, took about a dozen supporters on a “love parade” starting at the parking lot at 180 Jones St. to drop off her proposal on a recent afternoon.

Paraders donned white heart-shaped sunglasses provided by Weiss to, as she puts it, channel loving awareness for the challenges people face.

“You belong. Your needs matter,” Weiss said into the megaphone, leading the parade.

When residents on the streets asked what was going on, they were handed postcards with the details of what Weiss hopes to bring to the neighborhood — a “stewardship village” on top of the 4,743-square foot parking at Jones and Turk streets.

Weiss, a one-time mayoral candidate and founder of the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge, advocates for temporarily housing homeless persons in “safe organized spaces” using smaller cabin-style accommodations. The City doesn’t have enough shelter beds to house the thousands living on the streets every night.

The site is slated for an affordable housing development, but construction won’t begin until early 2022, according to Don Falk, head of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC), the nonprofit leading the project.

That leaves many months for The City to use the site for something that could better serve the neighborhood. This kind of interim use has become a trend in San Francisco, given the flurry of construction activity and growing needs.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD), which was given the lot by a developer as part of a deal to build a nearby housing development, issued a request for proposals on Oct. 2 for people to submit ideas for interim uses on the site. The proposals, which were due Oct. 25, were for a year, with a possible month-to-month extension.

Joyce Slen, who works for MOHCD, said that asking for interim use ideas is a “relatively recent” practice as a number of sites have come under their control in recent years.

“This is primarily the result of changes in the inclusionary program that allow for the dedication of land to MOHCD by market rate developers in fulfillment of their inclusionary requirements,” Slen said. “Additionally, in certain recent cases, MOHCD has made a direct purchase of land for future affordable housing development.”

In the past 12 months, Slen said they have sought interim uses on three other sites, 730 Stanyan St., 600 7th St. and 967 Mission, with one proposal approved at 600 7th St. for parking.

Slen said she could not disclose how many proposals they received for 180 Jones St. A panel of city staff and one community member scores and selects from them.

When Weiss first brought up the idea months ago, she was told that residents were supportive of using the lot for a dog park. She modified her proposal and lowered the initial concept for as many as 15 homes to five to accommodate space for people and their dogs. “Our community is going to be dog friendly,” Weiss said. “It’s going to be for the entire community.”

She has also spent the time to raise the $150,000 needed to pay for the plan, which includes $15,000 for five “emergency sleeping cabins.” Those who live in the cabins will receive stipends for monitoring the site. The plan also calls for providing services, such as litter pickup and arts and wellness activities.

David Elliott Lewis, a resident of the Tenderloin who was involved in the community talks to secure 180 Jones St. for affordable housing, told the San Francisco Examiner as the parade passed by City Hall that he support Weiss’s “compromise plan.”

“A dog park without supervision or stewardship can easily be run down and run over by … the same bad behavior that occurs there now,” Lewis said. “It seems like the best possible solution.”

Lewis said that some in the neighborhood are resistant to provide more services for homeless residents for fear it would attract more of them, but Lewis said that is “an argument I don’t accept, because they are already here.”

“There is a crying need and a sad need for more services,” Lewis said.

Curtis Bradford, co-chair of the Tenderloin People’s Congress and longtime Tenderloin resident, previously told the Examiner in May Weiss’s idea came after the community had largely come to back a dog park and he didn’t know what the response would be. On Friday, Bradford said that that he hadn’t yet reviewed Weiss’s submission but “I was excited to hear that she was intending to include a dog park for the community in combination with the Stewardship Village.”

“We are wishing her all the best and good luck on her pending review,” he said.

TNDC does not have an opinion about what interim use is selected, Falk said. “Our stance with respect to the uses we’ve heard proposed for the space is that we will accommodate whatever is chosen as the use and work with its sponsor, provided that we’re held harmless from all liability and that the drain on operations and development staff time is limited,” he said in an email.

Chris Housley, a carpenter who builds tiny shelters for the homeless and participated in the parade, said that different approaches like Weiss’s are an example of how “we can come up with better solutions for some of these problems.”

“There are plenty of people out there that can build these things and help people out, we just need a place for it to happen,” he said.

MOHCD is expected to render a decision in the first week of December.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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A rendering for a proposed temporary homeless village for a parking lot at Turk and Jones streets in the Tenderloin hangs on a fence at the lot on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Amy Farah Weiss, holding a bullhorn, founder of the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge, leads supporters of a proposal to turn a Tenderloin parking lot at Turk and Jones streets into a temporary homeless village on a march through the Tenderloin and past City Hall on their way to turn in the proposal to the Mayor’s Office of Housing for consideration on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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